We've dedicated plenty of space here throughout the preseason and offseason to the Houston Texans, so there's not a ton of broad, big-picture analysis left to do. If you want my season-long, game-by-game cadre of predictions and snark, that dropped earlier this week here.
Before we get into some quick hitters on the season opener against the Bears this Sunday at NRG Stadium (a game you can hear at noon on SportsRadio 610, and stick around afterward for the postgame show!), let me say that my biggest reason for excitement surrounding this season is what appears to be a potentially explosive offense, with speed the Texans have never had before.
If indeed this team takes a big leap this year, and the offense becomes a unit that scares opposing defenses, we will be talking in January about the remarkable job Rick Smith and Bill O'Brien did in giving that side of the ball a complete facelift. Seriously, has there been a team who swapped out QB1, RB1, WR2 and WR3 in one offseason, and then saw a massive upswing? That's the type of thing a rebuilding team does...the Texans reloaded. Or perhaps more appropriately, this regime finally, actually loaded their weapon. (All due respect to Arian Foster and DeAndre Hopkins, who operated on their own islands of greatness these first two O'Brien-coached seasons.)
Because we haven't seen it in an actual game yet, I don't think we've spent enough time dissecting just how remarkable the personnel transformation has been on the Texans' offensive side of the ball. Sunday, we see it for the first time in a real game.
So without further ado, let's take a look at this game...
4. Running the football
Not to get too worked up about preseason and stats this time of year, but the Texans didn't really break off any big runs in the preseason. The long run of the preseason was a 16-yarder by Akeem Hunt against the Cowboys' third stringers, and the longest run by a back who is actually on the 53-man roster was Lamar Miller's 14-yard run in the first quarter of the first game against the 49ers. The Texans averaged just 2.9 yards per carry in the preseason, ahead of only the Jets, Colts and Bucs. Bill O'Brien claims that the team will run the ball better when he and George Godsey can unleash their situational play-calling wizardry on the league in real games, and against a defense that was ranked 31st in DVOA last season, on Sunday, they'd better. Legions of Lamar Miller fantasy owners are counting on it. Also...
3. Texans WRs vs Chicago secondary
...let's see if some of that preseason productivity out of the young wide receiving corps translates to the regular season. After just one catch in the preseason opener, first-round pick Will Fuller was the Texans' leading receiver in weeks 2 and 3, and found his way into the end zone in both games. That's a good sign. Braxton Miller looks like a viable, if not dynamic, slot guy. DeAndre Hopkins is DeAndre Hopkins. Honestly, with a home game against one of the five or six worst teams in football, a team with a secondary missing a few of its top guys, you couldn't ask for a better, more friendly situation for Brock Osweiler's Texans debut.
2. Brian Cushing
On the defensive side of the ball, a big chunk of the past few days on my show has been spent fantasizing about a defense combining a surgically repaired J.J. Watt with a healthy, football-self-aware Jadeveon Clowney. It's basically football porn. However, lost in the shuffle of the dreams of dismembered opposing quarterbacks is Brian Cushing, who, in his limited preseason snaps, looked like the Cushing that came into the 2012 season as one of the top inside linebackers in all of football. Some of that is his finally being 100 percent healthy, but a lot of it is Cushing's having essentially graduated with a degree in Romeo Crennel's defense. Mental comfort breeds physical efficiency. This is a big year for Cushing, whose cap figure in the last season of his deal next year is $9.5 million with no dead money for cutting him loose.
1. J.J. Watt
I'll give you one lock for this Sunday — when they are doing player introductions at NRG Stadium, the defense will be introduced individually, and J.J. Watt will be the last one introduced, and the roof might come off the stadium. To the defense's credit, they looked pretty solid in the preseason, at all levels of the depth chart, front liners as well as guys who are now on the practice squad (and some on the street). They forced turnovers, generally kept teams out of the end zone, and played sound, disciplined football (some tackling issues in the opener notwithstanding). Now Watt comes back, and the defensive machine that the Texans brass envisioned more than two years ago when they drafted Jadeveon Clowney — Watt, Clowney, Cushing and Mercilus all harassing quarterbacks in front of a more than solid secondary — will be unleashed on Sunday.
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PREDICTION: Texans 28, Bears 13
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.